When a grease trap clogs or runs slowly, some commercial kitchens reach for the grease trap cleaner in order to dislodge it. Grease trap cleaners are also sometimes used to reduce how often grease traps need to be pumped out.
While grease trap cleaners can be effective, there are a number of problems associated with using them. Specifically, grease that's freed from the trap can re-solidify and cause clogs in the sewer line. If you're considering using a grease trap cleaner to fix a clogged grease trap or to reduce how often you have it pumped, read on to find out why this can potentially be a problem.
What Are Grease Trap Cleaners?
The most popular types of grease trap cleaners are enzymatic. These contain enzymes such as lipase that rapidly break down fats in your grease trap, liquefying them. Bacterial grease trap cleaners are also common, and they contain bacteria that naturally produce the enzymes used in enzymatic grease trap cleaners—they use the fats in the grease trap as a food source.
Other types of grease trap cleaners are detergents and surfactants, which are simply chemicals that liquefy solid grease. They're essentially stronger versions of the dish soap you would use to remove stubborn grease from plates and cookware.
Do Grease Trap Cleaners Work?
In general, yes, they do work. They reduce the viscosity of grease and allow it to flow out of the grease trap and down the sewer drain. However, there's a major problem with this—the purpose of a grease trap is to keep grease out of the municipal sewer system. Using grease trap cleaners in your grease trap simply circumvents its intended purpose.
What Are the Problems Associated With Using Grease Trap Cleaners?
Why is it important to keep grease out of the sewer? Liquefied grease that leaves your grease trap may re-solidify later once it has been flushed down into the sewer drains. If it solidifies in your connection to the municipal sewer, you'll end up with a clogged sewer drain—this can be very expensive to fix and requires the services of a professional plumber. If it solidifies in your city's sewer system, it causes problems for your municipal wastewater service—this is why many cities have banned the use of grease trap cleaners, and you can be fined if you're caught using them.
Ideally, bacterial grease trap cleaners would work the best. The problem is that bacteria cannot directly use long-chain fatty acids for energy. They must be converted into short-chain fatty acids. The bacteria digest the short-chain fatty acids and leave carbon dioxide and water as the byproduct.
The problem occurs when you consider the environment of a grease trap—there's wastewater (sometimes including soap) continually flushed into it during the day. It's not a very hospitable place for bacteria. Often, there simply aren't enough bacteria in the grease trap to perform the final step of converting the short-chain fatty acids to carbon dioxide and water. The fats end up washed down the drain.
Enzymatic grease trap cleaners attempt to convert fats to carbon dioxide and water as well, simply using enzymes instead of bacteria, but they suffer from the same flaw. Enzymatic cleaners are liquids, and much of it will be washed down the drain without being able to fully complete the conversion process.
Surfactants and detergents don't even attempt to convert grease to carbon dioxide and water. They simply liquefy the grease so that it can exit the grease trap, and it's likely that it will re-solidify in either your sewer connection or the city's sewer system.
What Should You Do Instead of Using Grease Trap Cleaners?
Since grease trap cleaners can be dangerous to both your sewer system and the city's, you shouldn't use them. There's no replacement for periodic pumping of your grease trap—it's the safest way. You should have your grease trap pumped about every three months, depending on its size and the amount of grease you're flushing down the drain.
If you're using grease trap cleaners because your grease trap is clogged or drains slowly, call a grease trap maintenance service instead. They will clean the grease trap to eliminate any stuck-on grease, removing clogs and speeding up the flow of water.